15th Wednesday in Ordinary Time
By a divine paradox, the things that are really worth knowing are hidden from the wise and the learned, but revealed to the childlike. One reason for that may be that the childlike can ask the kinds of questions that would never occur to the wise and the learned. If we try and ask the same kinds of questions about today’s first reading, we might gain some insights that you won’t find in a scholarly exegesis of the book of Exodus.
One example of this occurs in an early Jewish work, Sh’mot Rabba, the midrash on Exodus. It asks the question, why did God choose to speak to Moses out of a lowly thorn bush, (as the Aramaic translates it)? Why not the stately palm tree or the venerable olive tree? The answer it gives is that nothing in nature is too insignificant to merit God’s attention. Sometimes, in fact, the humble things deserve more honor than the great, because they are not corrupted by pride or ambition. Also, God chose to dwell in a stunted thorn bush to show Moses that God suffers along with his people. But most important of all, God chose the thorn bush to teach us that holiness resides not in high mountains nor in towering cedars but in a humble spirit.
Jesus himself asked this kind of question about our first reading. As for the dead being raised, he asked one time, have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God told him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not God of the dead but of the living, for to him all are alive’.
In the fourth century St Gregory of Nyssa asked, what does the burning bush remind us of? And in his Life of Moses he answers, “It symbolizes the mystery of the Virgin, from whom came the divine light that shone upon the world without damaging or consuming the burning bush, just as the flower of her virginity was not withered by giving birth”. The Church adopted this interpretation in the Marian Antiphon which the monks sing at the end of Terce: “In the bush seen by Moses as burning yet unconsumed, we recognize the preservation of your glorious virginity, O Mother of God”.
In the same spirit, we might ask why the thorn bush is like the bread and wine we use at Mass. And the answer would be, just as God dwelt in the bush without changing anything in its appearance, so he takes our bread and wine and changes them into the body and blood of Christ, without changing anything in their appearance. And just as the bush was united with the fire without being damaged, so we are united with Christ at communion without being annihilated by our contact with the living God. Instead we can say, with all the childlike, “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb”.